TAMPA — U.S. Republicans hope their national convention this week in Florida will give presidential candidate Mitt Romney a major boost in what is expected to be a closely fought election campaign between now and November 6.
Mother Nature threw the Republicans off-message at the start of their convention as Tropical Storm Isaac made its way into the Gulf of Mexico.
But the convention mood improved as the week went on, says Florida Congressman Dennis Ross.
"We started off Monday canceling the convention," said Ross. "We watched what happened and as the weather gets better the convention gets better, so I think we are going to see some momentum leaving here and we will ride a wave in the next 68 days and have a new president come November."
Unlike the past when U.S. party conventions actually chose presidential candidates, the modern convention aims to present the presidential nominee to a national audience and lay out the key themes of his campaign message.
That's especially important this year for Mitt Romney. Mr. Romney is seen as less likeable than his opponent after months of attack ads, first from his conservative rivals in the Republican primaries and later from President Barack Obama's Democratic Party.
It was clear talking to delegates in Tampa that many Republicans still are motivated more by the goal of defeating Mr. Obama than by any love for Mr. Romney as a conservative leader.
Mark Shields is a syndicated columnist and a political analyst on the Newshour program on the Public Broadcasting System.
"The organizing principle of the Republican Party in 2012 is to defeat Barack Obama," said Shields. "It isn't necessarily adulation or an emotional connection with Mitt Romney."
Party leaders say they are confident their convention helped to build party unity, even if some delegates remain less than enthusiastic about Mr. Romney.
Senator Jon Kyl is a veteran Republican from Arizona.
"Look, he's not Ronald Reagan," said Kyl. "Who else is? He does have the party unified. He brings a lot of strengths to the top of the ticket. And most of all, he will be seen as a person who is a very good man who has a great capability to fix what's wrong, and boy does this country need somebody like that now who understands what it takes.”
Some of those strains may have been eased when Mr. Romney chose Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, says conservative radio talk show host Roger Hedgecock.
"Romney has been all over the board on some issues," said Hedgecock. "Right now his platform is fantastic from a conservative point of view. And Paul Ryan as a [vice presidential] selection, which is the first decision that the nominee Mitt Romney made, is a terrific decision, which has excited the conservative base a lot."
A familiar voice in that conservative base is commentator Ann Coulter. She is warning Republicans to brace themselves for a fresh wave of attacks from Democrats.
"That is the only way they campaign against us by trying to make our candidates look stupid or scary, and you cannot make Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan look stupid or scary," said Coulter.
But analyst Mark Shields says Mr. Romney will need to find a way to connect with voters in a more personal way if he hopes to win the White House in November.
"We know that the failures of presidents over the past half century have been failures not of intellect, not of experience, but failures of personality or character," he said. "Personality in the case of Jimmy Carter, I think it's fair to say. Character certainly in the case of Richard Nixon. So they want somebody they are comfortable with. They want to be sure and they want to be sure especially in 2012 that this is somebody who understands what I'm going through."
The Democrats get their turn beginning Monday when they gather in Charlotte, North Carolina, for their convention to nominate President Obama for a second four-year term.